August 5, 2013
history of Delta Company 1st Battalion 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division in their 13 months of Combat in the Republic of Vietnam, 1966 – 1967
Reactivation, Quang Tri, Prairie, Deckhouse III and Deckhouse IV, Con Thien and Gio Linh
March 1, 1966
Secretary of Defense McNamara announces reactivation of the 5th Marine Division. Manpower for the 5th MarDiv comes from the 55,000 spaces authorized for the Marine Corps in late 1965.
BLT 1/26 is reactivated at Camp Pendleton and LtCol. Monti is assigned as its Commander. Capt. R. J. Weidner is the first Commander of Delta Co. The training cycle is a three-month "lock-on" which includes live fire exercises and an amphibious landing north of Oceanside, CA.
U.S. Marines repel NVA Division 324B's invasion of Quang Tri Province in Operation Hastings.
July 8, 1966
BLT 1/26 departs San Diego as part of a three-ship convoy consisting of the Iwo Jima, the Vancouver and the Thomaston.
Late July 1966
BLT 1/26 ships pass close by Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and Marines hold formation to pay respects.
Delta Co. goes through jungle training school in the Philippines.
August 3, 1966
Operation Hastings ends and the 3rd Marine Division launches Operation Prairie on the same battleground in response to a new invasion threat by the NVA 324B Division.
August 9-12, 1966
Delta Co. conducts a training exercise in the San Jose Area, Mindoro Philippines Islands.
August 16-29, 1966
BLT 1/26 makes its first combat landings in Vietnam during Deckhouse III, Parts I and II. The area of operations is The Vung Tau Peninsula, 60 miles southeast of Saigon. The landings are made in conjunction with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and Australian units. The target area is the coastal lowland of Binh Tuy and Phuoc provinces, generally an uncultivated plain covered with one and two canopy jungle and swamps. The rifle companies operate over widely separated areas, relying on small unit patrolling to adequately search the area. The enemy forces targeted are the Headquarters VC 5th Division, 274 and 275 Main-Force Regiments, which are seeking to avoid engagement. General Westmoreland visits the CP for BLT 1/26.
Deckhouse III, Phase I, is the first combat landing in Vietnam for BLT 1/26. The 1/26 Battalion CP is located at grid YS 829714. There is no significant contact on this landing during the sweep of this plantation territory.
Deckhouse III, Phase 2, Operation Toledo, is the second combat landing in Vietnam for BLT 1/26 (August 22 to 29). The 1/26 Battalion CP is located at grid YS 645700. The operation locates and then attacks a VC base camp and bunker complex. The VC do not stand and fight; instead, they abandon the base prior to the Marine attack. However, the results of the sweep are good, as tons of rice are captured along with ammunition and other supplies, such as a tractor and cattle.
Three C/1/26 Marines were killed on August 28, 1966 and they are the first combat deaths for 1/26 Marines.
LCpl. Randall Lake, date unknown Died of malaria contracted during Operation Deckhouse III, Phase 2.
3/4 Marines attack the elaborate fortifications being constructed by 324B along a ridge near the razorback as part of Operation Prairie. Hills 400 and 484 are the Marines’ objectives in the battle for Mutter Ridge. In related actions, BLT 1/26 is OpCon to the 4th Marines and conducts Deckhouse IV/Prairie at the same time.
September 15, 1966
Deckhouse IV/Prairie starts when BLT 1/26 Marines makes its third combat landing as a reconnaissance in force sweep in the area north of Dong Ha. The target is the northwestern portion of the Gio Linh District, and the mission is to screen the northern approaches in support of Operation Prairie. During this operation, BLT 1/26 engages in a series of fights with units of the NVA 324B Division northeast of Con Thien.
The Reconnaissance unit attached to BLT 1/26 was 1st Plt., Co. A, 5th Recon. Elements of this unit engaged the NVA and 1st Lt. W. J. Spainhour was killed.
Delta Co. moves out to the northwest after securing the LZ for the CP of BLT 1/26 near the Village of Phu Tho. From the company's night position, the Ben Hai River Bridge checkpoint to North Vietnam can be observed.
September 16, 1966
In the early AM, Delta Co. comes under mortar fire. Later in the day, two bobby traps explode and several casualties are medevaced.
September 17, 1966
In the early AM hours a large firefight starts not far away and continues for quite a while. The firing is from the Alpha Co. position as they are being attacked by NVA with heavy small arms fire and mortars. Delta Co. moves out in the morning in a westerly direction through rolling terrain towards the village of Gia Binh. This village is northeast of Con Thien (Hill 158), which is then an ARVN outpost.
At midday there is occasional gunfire in the distance. In the afternoon, the company goes through what is basically a large bamboo forest, which takes a while to traverse. The north end opens up on a small rice paddy the village on the other side was Gia Binh. The point of 2nd platoon sees NVA soldiers and heavy fire erupts. Delta Co. advances and the surprised NVA pulls back.
The 1st Platoon draws the point next, and Delta Co. moves out in a northerly direction along the cart path, which runs through Gia Binh. After a short advance, the NVA strikes back with heavy fire from fortified positions on both sides of the road (YD 146730). The company returns fire, and air strikes and artillery are called in. The company recovers casualties and pulls back to set up a LZ. Late in the afternoon, a medevac helicopter is shot down while trying to land. The company digs in for the night.
September 18, 1966
In the early AM hours, Delta Co. comes under mortar fire. The morning advance into Gia Binh begins with the 2nd Platoon as point. The plan is for one squad to advance towards the center of the village along the main trail flanked by the other two squads. The physical setting is tough, with hedgerows limiting movement; the previous day's probe towards the center of the village revealed a series of trenches, tank traps, and fighting positions.
Late in the morning, the company makes heavy contact and receives automatic weapons fire from both sides of the road and the front (YD 146730). The enemy fights from prepared positions and the 2nd Platoon takes very heavy casualties. Several Marines are killed in the initial exchange of fire, including the 2nd Platoon Commander, 1stLt. Geoghegan. There is a lot of confusion on both sides, with the NVA calling out to each other and Marines doing the same. Delta Co is pinned down for quite a while; supporting arms, along with the eight-inch guns of the Navy cruiser St. Paul, are called in to cover its withdrawal.
Later in the day, Delta Co. again comes under fire and the company withdraws south to link up with Bravo Co. The following Delta Co. Marines are killed on September 18, 1966:
Pfc. David Beattie, 9/18/66 - Fragmentation grenade at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Pfc. Elmer Boatman, 9/18/66 - Died of Wounds by gunshot on 9/17/66 at Gia Binh (DMZ)
1stLt. Gerald Geoghegan, 9/18/66, - Killed by gunshot at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Pfc. Herschel Helm, 9/18/66 - Killed by gunshot at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Pfc. Thomas Jonozzo, 9/18/66 - Killed by gunshot at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Cpl. Steven Miller, 9/18/66 - Killed by gunshot at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Pfc. Danny Rundle, 9/18/66 - Killed by gunshot at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Pfc. Florentino Santana, 9/18/66 - Killed by gunshot at Gia Binh (DMZ)
Sgt Donald W. Scott was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions and valor on September 18, 1966.
September 19, 1966
In the morning, Delta Co., reinforced with a platoon from Bravo Co., attacks the village of An Dinh, which is the connected village south of Gia Binh. The village of An Dinh is located east of Con Thien. The company advances, comes under fire, and is heavily engaged (YD147717). Supporting arms saturate the area. Delta Co. attacks again and runs into heavy fire. Air strikes are called and produce secondary explosions.
At midday, the company again enters the village and finds many trenches and tunnels. About two hours later, Delta Co. comes under heavy automatic weapons fire and naval gunfire and air strikes are called. The company pulls back. Delta Co. advances again and conducts reconnaissance by fire. Late in the afternoon, the company comes under heavy automatic weapons fire from both flanks and is pinned down. Artillery is employed and contact is broken. The following Delta Co. Marines are killed on September 19, 1966:
Pfc. Bruce Backeberg, 9/19/66 - Killed by gunshot at An Dinh (DMZ)
Pfc. Ronald Dexter, 9/19/66 - Killed by gunshot at An Dinh (DMZ)
Pfc. Bruce Backeberg (KIA 9/9/66) and Pfc. Edward D. Larson (WIA-9/21/66 and DOW-10/8/66) were awarded the Silver Star (Posthumously) for their actions and valor on September 19, 1966.
September 20, 1966
Delta Co. receives early AM sniper fire. The company holds its position waiting for Charlie Co., accompanied by tanks, to approach from the west. One of the tanks hits an AT mine during this advance. The following Delta Co. Marine is killed on September 20, 1966:
LCpl. Micky Johns, 9/20/66 - Died of wounds by gunshot on 9/18/66 at An Dinh (DMZ)
September 21, 1966
An attack by three companies is initiated against An Dinh. In the morning, Charlie Co. and the tanks attack from the west and meet strong resistance from automatic weapons and AT rockets. Air strikes and artillery are called and Delta Co. maneuvers to linkup with Charlie Co. on the left and Bravo Co. on the right. That afternoon, Companies B, C, & D, supported by tanks, attack the village from three directions. An Dinh is secured when the NVA force break contact at the end of the day and pull back to the north.
September 22, 1966
Delta Co. receives early AM mortar fire. A renewed attack against Gia Binh is commenced in the morning. Delta Co. advances northward and receives scattered small arms fire from the village. However, this time the NVA do not put up a fight and withdraw. The company enters Gia Dinh at midday. A sweep of the village is conducted, especially the area where Delta Co. fought the NVA on September 17 and 18. The company uncovers 17 NVA bodies, an extensive trench network, bunkers reinforced with concrete, and many spider holes. This place became known to Delta Co. as the three gates from hell.
September 23, 1966
In the morning, Delta Co. advances towards Con Thien (Hill 158). Bravo Co. makes contact with the NVA west of Gia Binh. A local woman states that two NVA platoons have just passed through the area and are accompanied by Chinese advisors.
September 24, 1966
The Marines of BLT 1/26 reembark aboard the ships of the SLF. As September ends, the total NVA killed in Operation Prairie are 943. The number of NVA killed during the ten days of Deckhouse IV/Prairie fighting is 254.
BLT 1/26 casualties are 36 KIA and 200 WIA, and Delta Co. losses are 12 KIA and several dozen WIA. This includes the following Delta Co. Marine who latter died of wounds.
September 26, 1966
The battalion goes ashore at Da Nang to replace 1/9 at Hill 55 TAOR south of Da Nang. 1/26 is placed under the operational control of the 9th Marine regiment.
After completion of Operation Deckhouse IV/Prairie, the decision is made to strengthen the Marine presence on the DMZ. In October 1966, the Marines of 2/5 take over Con Thien from the ARVN.
Revision Date - 06/17/01
Section 2: Central I Corps in 1966 and 1967
Quang Nam, Da Nang, Hill 55, Dodge City, Shasta, Thuy Bo, Go Noi Island, Chu Lai, and Hill 190
September 27, 1966
After Deckhouse IV, the 1st Battalion 26th Marines replaces 1/9 in the Hill 55 TAOR south of Da Nang. 1/26 is placed under the operational control of the 9th Marine Regiment and is responsible for the northern sector of the 9th Marines TAOR.
The assignment of the 9th Marine Regiment is the opening of Liberty Road, which runs through the hill 55 TAOR south to An Hoa. A daily task of Delta Co. is to provide security for the morning mine sweep, south to the Charlie Co. position at Route 4, and for the Seabees building the road. Enemy activity consists of sniper action in squad size or less and booby trapping. Friendly activity consists of daylight saturation patrols, reconnaissance patrols, road security patrols, and night ambushes.
The first patrols of Delta Co. are four or five-day patrols north of Hill 55. Their objective is to sweep and clear hamlets and to support ARVN and Marine pacification programs. This is a contested area, and Marine casualties are encountered from booby traps, mines, and snipers. During these first patrols, the following Delta Co. Marines are killed:
Pfc. Benny Wimberly, 9/28/66 - Killed by sniper north of Hill 55
Pfc. Richard Malaspina, 9/29/66 - Killed by mine north of Hill 55
Pfc. Edward D. Larson, 10/8/66 - Died of wounds on 9/21/66 south of DMZ
October 11-12, 1966
A County Fair is held in Le Son (5). The following Delta Co. Marine is killed:
Pfc. Bryant Powell, 10/11/66 - Killed by sniper north of Hill 55
October 18, 1966
The pontoon bridge position south of Hill 55 is probed by the VC. This is also the water point for Hill 55.
October 21- 24, 1966
Heavy rains flood the area, suspending operations and causing the evacuation of the Bravo Co. CP south of Hill 55. Constant mud, flooding, wetness, trench foot and lousy weather are the norm for many weeks to come.
October 24, 1966
LtCol. Monti is replaced by LtCol. Newton as the 1/26 Battalion Commander.
November 2, 1966
The perimeter area around Hill 55 is active with occasional probes by the VC and frequent sniper activity. One of the Hill 55 perimeter positions manned at night by Delta Co. is finger 3, and these bunkers are in close sniper range from Duc Key (1). The sniper is nicknamed "Zorro". In the weeks since Delta Co.’s arrival at Hill 55, Zorro has killed one Marine and wounded another. The following Delta Co. Marine is killed:
Pvt. Samuel Lightman, 11/02/66 - Killed by sniper off finger three at Hill 55
November 10, 1966
The Marine Corps birthday is a grand meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, cake and beer. 2nd Platoon is holding the bunker positions at the bridge, and the Gunny Sergeant sends some beer down to the river. Somebody starts the fun by tossing a smoke grenade, and somebody else responds. This starts a round of popup flares back and forth across the river and firing into the darkness.
November 12, 1966
The Delta Co. CP receives mortar rounds and automatic weapons fire. Three Marines are wounded. The whole Da Nang TAOR is active that night. Northeast of Hill 55, a VC sapper unit has attacked the position of India 3/1; the 1st Platoon of Delta Co. is transported by tanks (in the dark) to reinforce the India Co. position. The attack causes a number of dead and wounded 3/1 Marines.
Delta Co is part of Operation Shasta, which is a multi-company sweep in the "Dodge City" area. Reports from the Dai Loc District Headquarters indicate that a Main-Force VC company has moved into the area just north of the Thu Bon River to join with to local guerrilla units that operate in the area of La Huan (1) and Duc Ky (1) east of Liberty Road. Operation Shasta involves companies from 1/26 as well as units from 2/3 and 2/1. The operation covers the territory between Go Noi Island north to Hill 55.
Operation Shasta is conducted in two phases from November 5 - 19, 1966. The enemy’s tactic is to conduct delaying and harassing actions. After withdrawal from an area, mines and booby traps are left behind to delay the Marine attack.
November 7-10, 1966
Delta Co. serves as a blocking force north of the Thu Bon River.
November 14, 1966
Operation Shasta continues. Delta Co. links up with Charlie Co. in Thuy Bo at midday. A medevac helicopter has been shot down that morning and the pilot wounded. A second medevac helicopter is hit but is able to pick up the casualties and fly out again. Artillery is called on the VC firing positions. In the afternoon, a Huey is shot down while covering the landing of another UH 34D. Artillery and air strikes are called on the area east of La Huan (1) and Thuy Bo (1) towards the railroad tracks.
After the Huey crash-landed close by, LCpl. Kirby of 2nd Platoon retrieves one of the M-60 machine guns from the helicopter. Amtracs eventually drag the choppers out.
November 15, 1966
In the morning, Delta Co. detonates a shaped charge mine rigged as a surprise-firing device at Thuy Bo (1) close to the railroad tracks. Three Marines from a platoon of Alpha Co. attached to Delta Co. are killed:
LCpl. Joseph Craft, 11/15/66 - Killed by bobby trap south of Hill 55
Pfc. Eddie Peoples, 11/15/66 - Killed by bobby trap south of Hill 55
Pfc. Wesley Shimoda, 11/15/66 - Killed by bobby trap south of Hill 55
At midday, the company receives sniper fire and about 50 rounds of small arms fire. One Marine who has just joined Delta Co. is killed with another wounded.
Pfc. Gerald Johnson, 11/15/66 - Killed by sniper south of Hill 55
November 19, 1966
Delta Co. makes a sweep of the villes south of the bridge that runs east along the south bank of the Song La Tho. At midday, during a sweep of La Huan (2), Delta Co. receives about 250 rounds of small arms fire and mortars. The company returns fire as well as seven 90mm rounds from the accompanying tank. Air strikes are called as well. A round from the tank hits a nearby metal post or tree and explodes, killing one nearby Marine and wounding several others. The following Delta Co. Marine is killed:
LCpl. David West, 11/19/66 - Killed by short round from tank south of Hill 55
Operation Shasta is terminated at the end of the day. Marine casualties are 13 KIA and 66 WIA. VC losses are 22 KIA.
November or December, 1966
One patrol by a squad from second Platoon is pretty amazing. Cpl. Hawkins leads a night patrol into Chau Son (2). This hamlet is close to Hill 55 but is at the fork of two rivers, which means easy movement for the VC. Part of the squad sets up a defensive position just inside the ville, while Cpl. Hawkins leads the rest towards the center to check things out. As it turns out there are VC in the village, and the Marines and VC literally bump into each other. Cpl. Hawkins grabs one of the VC, shooting breaks out, and the Marines withdraw. The squad makes it back with no causalities and turns the VC over to battalion.
December 9, 1966
Capt. R. J. Weidner is replaced by Capt. G. D. Johnson as the Delta Company Commander.
A sweep is conducted by the 1st Platoon in the Lo Son area north of Hill 55 in an operation with Alpha 1/26. The patrol takes several casualties. The 2nd Platoon kills a VC traveling by boat along the Lo Tho River south of Hill 55. Also, Delta Co. begins to work the area south of the bridge with more frequent platoon and squad patrols.
The 1st Platoon Commander, Lt. C.R. Dennis, is severely wounded by a mine and evacuated.
December 20-21, 1966
Delta Co. is OpCon to 2/1 Marines. The second and third platoons are the blocking force for an operation in Thuy Bo area south of hill 55. The 2nd Platoon comes under fire from a tree line and advances towards the direction of fire. The platoon gets caught in a minefield, and Bouncing Betty mines kill two Marines. Many others are wounded, including the Machine Gun Squad Leader, Cpl. Carver. The 1st Platoon, still on Hill 55, is the reaction force and mounts up on amtracs to join the rest of the Company in this action.
Because of the number of helicopters shot down in the area, no medevac flight is made and the wounded and killed are transported by amtracs back to Hill 55 for evacuation. The following Marines are killed during this action:
Pfc. Wayne Burkhart, 12/20/66 - Killed by mine explosion south of Hill 55
Cpl. Richard Kosky, 12/20/66 - Killed by mine explosion south of Hill 55
Late December 1966
Due to heavy rain, Route 4, which connects Liberty Road North and South, is impassable to wheeled vehicles for the greater part of the month.
January 8, 1967
The Commandant, Gen. Green, visits Hill 55.
Delta Co. continues to conduct numerous platoon and squad patrols and night ambushes. During one of these engagements north of Hill 55, acting 1st Platoon Commander SSgt. Fernandez and another Marine are seriously wounded.
January 27-29, 1967
Delta Co. is OpCon to the 2/5 Marines in support of support Operation Tuscaloosa north of An Hoa in the "Arizona" area. The Company is helilifted by CH 46 choppers south of the Thu Bon River near the vicinity of Le Lam (3). In the proceeding days, the Marines of 2/5 have engaged the VC Main-Force in heavy fighting throughout the area. Delta Co. sweeps the area looking for the retreating VC but encounters only sporadic fire.
January 31, 1967
In an early morning attack, Delta Co. (1st and 3rd Platoons) through Duc Ky (2) forces a VC Main-force unit to retreat towards the La Tho River south and east of Hill 55. This is a very successful operation. To establish predawn positions outside the ville, an early AM river crossing north of Hill 55 precedes the attack by Delta Co. The Charlie Co. blocking force (La Huan (2)) observes 16 VC attempting to swim the Ai Nghai River to escape and has a turkey shoot as they ambush the fleeing VC, killing 14. Delta Co. also kills one VC during their advance.
At midday, a squad of 3rd Platoon is sent out to the Charlie Co. ambush site. En route, this squad comes under fire from around La Huan (2) by the remnants of the VC Main-Force unit involved in the early morning fight. The squad engages the VC and takes several casualties. As reaction force, the remainder of 3rd Platoon still on Hill 55 mounts up on amtracs and proceeds to the area of the firefight. The fighting continues, and two Marines are killed -- the artillery FO and his radioman. More are wounded, including the 3rd Platoon Commander, Lt. Murray. The following artillery Marines from Alpha Battery 1st Battalion 13th Marines are killed:
2nd Lt. John Filpi, 1/31/67, 1967 - Killed by gunshot south of Hill 55
LCpl. Edward Hanshaw, 1/31/67 - Killed by gunshot south of Hill 55
Because of the number of helicopters shot down in the area, no medevac flight is made, and the wounded and killed are transported by amtracs back to Hill 55 for evacuation.
Hotel Co., 2/1 comes under heavy fire from a Main-Force VC unit in the Thuy Bo area. VC weapons include a 50-caliber machine gun and many automatic rifles. The Thuy Bo hamlets are located on the boundary between the 1/26 and 2/1 TAOR, and both Marine battalions patrolled a portion of Thuy Bo village. On the following morning, 2/1 Marines assault Thuy Bo. Marine casualties for the two-day fight are 6 KIA and 26 WIA. There are also many civilian casualties.
February 1-3, 1967
Delta Co. is OpCon to 2/4 Marines for Operation Independence west of An Hoa. That morning the company is lifted out on CH 46 choppers to the Independence AO. This operation is commanded by the 9th Marines and involves elements of all three Marine Divisions (1st, 3rd and 5th).
February 3, 1967
Delta Co. is withdrawn from Operation Independence and relieved by 2/4 Marines returning from Okinawa. At this time, the company is OpCon to Task Force XRAY, which is the ad-hoc command structure for the remaining four battalions of the 1st MarDiv at Chu Lai. CH 46 helicopters lift the company to Da Nang air transit center for a C-130 flight to Chu Lai. There is no advance word of this event.
The mission of Delta Co. is to work the base areas of the Chu Lai TAOR while Task Force XRAY units are engaged in Operation Desoto, which started on January 27, 1967.
Early February 1967
At Chu Lai, the first position for Delta Co. is the CP covering the northern coastal approaches to the Chu Lai vital area. This CP is located in and around secure hamlets close to the Chu Lai airstrip. This area is totally different from Hill 55 TAOR, where the war is all the time and everywhere. At Chu Lai the people are more prosperous and seem friendly. The Delta Co. Marines are amazed; instead of being shot off Hill 55, the company is spending Tet 1967 among these friendly Vietnamese. Some of the families even invite Marines to join them to share a Tet holiday meal.
February 12-22, 1967
There is a continued rise in VC Main-Force activity around the Hill 55 TAOR, and Operation Stone is conducted by 2/1 Marines. The first part is a sweep of Go Noi Island, south of the 1/26 TAOR, conducted by elements of three battalions. The second part is a sweep of Thuy Bo, which is conducted by 2/1 reinforced. Operation Stone claims 291 VC killed with 9 Marine KIA and 76 WIA.
Some Delta Co. Marines still on Hill 55 and from H&S Co. Marines serve as a blocking force along the River and villages east of the water point bridge near Duc Ky (1).
February 14, 1967
On Valentine’s Day, Jane Mansfield visits Hill 55. A stage is built with proper decorations, and LtCol. Newton is the master of ceremonies. Unfortunately, the Delta Co. Marines in Chu Lai miss the show.
The second position for Delta Co. is the CP south of Chu Lai. This is a peninsula area with fishing villages and sandy beaches. The VC is active, and the 1st platoon takes some casualties.
Late February 1967
The next CP for Delta Co. is inland west of Route 1. The truck convoy into the CP hits mines and two trucks are destroyed. Fortunately, there are no serious injuries except for ringing ears and shrapnel. Actor Robert Mitchum makes a visit to the area and talks to some of the company. A series of long night patrols and sweeps through the foothills is conducted. Delta Co. also provides security for truck convoys to Quang Ngai City to the south.
March 5-7, 1967
All good things must come to an end, and Delta Co. is flown back to Da Nang and returned to Hill 55. During the company’s absence, someone has gone through the platoon area, ransacked the personal gear stored in Willie Peter bags, and pretty much made a mess of things.
Several transfers are made for rotation date mixing. After these changes, there are fewer than 30 of the original Delta 1/26 Marines left. It has been one year since BLT 1/26 started its training cycle at Camp Pendleton and seven months since the battalion's first landing in Vietnam. The stay on Hill 55 is only several days' duration; just long enough to get new boots, utilities, visit a few people, and make a couple patrols.
March 8, 1967
Delta Co. is OpCon to the 2/26 Marines to defend the northwest Da Nang TAOR while three companies of 1/26 are committed to Operation Prairie I & II. The company is trucked to Hill 190 north of Da Nang near Cho Mai. This village lies just south of the Cu De River. Hill 190 is the site of an old French outpost and the VC, wild boars and tigers inhabit the area. A Popular Force CAC unit is located nearby. The 1st and 3rd Platoons operate from this location while the 2nd Platoon is located on Hill 60 which is southwest of Hill 190.
Delta Co. immediately begins patrols through the villages east of Hill 190. The VC are active in this area. Day patrols and night ambushes are initiated. Mine sweep activities are conducted every day. The 2nd Platoon is located in a sparsely populated area on Hill 60. Squad sized patrols are also conducted from this position.
A fire team ambush east of Hill 190 near Ap Thuy Tu (1).observes a VC approaching on a trail engaged the enemy. The following Delta Co. Marine was killed:
LCpl Lester Bell, 3/10/67 - Killed by gunshot east of Hill 190
Several days later another Marine is badly wounded by a mine in this area.
March 17, 1967
A 2nd Platoon patrol northwest of Hill 60 engages an enemy force of unknown size. The squad engages the enemy and called an artillery fire mission. The following Delta Co. Marine was killed:.
Pvt. Lawrence Barisic, 3/17/67 - Killed by gunshot in the vicinity of Hill 60
March 18, 1967
A tank on the daily mine sweep hits a mine. Five Delta Co. Marines are wounded.
March 30, 1967
A Delta Co. ambush observes two VC crossing the river. The ambush opens fire and during the following sweep finds a grenade and rifle.
Late March 1967
The 1st and 3rd Platoons of Delta Co. conducts an amphibious operation (sort of) with amtracs. The amtracs carries the two platoons back up the Cu De River, where the Marines go ashore and proceed to sweep the area of a suspected VC camp. The VC do not put up a fight. Canoes are found at the site and a large cache of food and ammunition is discovered and brought back Hill 190 by the amtracs.
In the second part of this action, 1st Platoon proceeds to climb hill 444 in search of a French-Vietnamese gunrunner in the area. Hill 444 is north of the Cu De River. After that hump, the 1st Platoon is lifted by helicopters to a mountaintop on the seacoast dubbed "Stud Mountain." Unfortunately, the Marines have a friendly fire incident with a swift boat and a Navy barge. The good news is that no damage is done.
Delta Co. turns in reliable M-14 rifles for the less reliable M-16 rifles, which have a tendency to jam due to a stuck round in the chamber. To clear the rifle, a Marine has to assemble the cleaning rod and poke it through its barrel. The word is given to make sure that the chambers of the rifles are very clean. The new M-16s are referred to as Mattel Toys.
Early April 1967
Delta Co. returns to Hill 55. During the company's absence from the area, the VC are able to build new punji pits, place more mines, and to dig new trenches and spider holes. This results in numerous casualties for Delta Company as patrol activity recommences in the vicinity of Hill 55.
April 22, 1967
Delta Co. is OpCon to 2/1 and is transported by truck to the 2/1 CP located northeast of Hill 55 near the Village of Phong Luc (2). The 2/1 CP is located east of Highway 1 and accessed by a military road called Anderson Trail. South of the intersection of Highway 1 and Anderson Trail is a RF compound on Highway 1 at the Than Quit River crossing. The company's assignment is to patrol the 2/1 area while this battalion is deployed south on Operation Union in the Que Son Valley and Nui Loc Son.
Late April 1967
Delta Co. patrols both sides of Route 1 and along the 1/26 TAOR boundary with day patrols and night ambushes. The 2nd Platoon is at the RF fort when it is mortared. During this incident, there are one ARVN KIA and two Marines WIA.
May 4, 1967
1/26 Marines are given the word to prepare for movement north to join the rest of the 3rd MarDiv. At the same time, the 1st MarDiv is being replaced at Chu Lai by units of the US Army Americal Division. Delta Co. is returned to Hill 55 to transition 1/7 Marines as they arrive from Chu Lai to replace 1/26.
May 6, 1967
Delta Co is lifted by CH 46 helicopters to Phu Bia as forward staging. The company is taken to an area away from the Phu Bia base, where they dig in and wait for the word. The "original word" is that 1/26 will provide security for engineers building a road right across Vietnam to Laos. This is to be called Operation Cumberland. However, the new word is Khe Sanh. At that time, the hill fights are still ongoing.
For more information, please read former Secretary of the Navy James Webb's piece "Heroes of the Vietnam Generation" on his website at http://www.jameswebb.com/articles/americanenterprise-heroes.html
Burial at Sea
By LtCol George Goodson, USMC (Ret)
In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time, as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial.
War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it. Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic, and was wounded there, Vietnam was my war.
Now 37 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams of Americans and Montangards fought much larger elements of the North Vietnamese Army. Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:
*The smell of Nuc Mam.
*The heat, dust, and humidity.
*The blue exhaust of cycles clogging the streets.
*Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
*Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
*Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
*A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
*The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
*My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.
It was late 1967. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam. Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth new school, and bought a second car.
A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek, Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine. I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At 5'9", I now weighed 128 pounds - 37 pounds below my normal weight. My uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication, and I think I had a twitch or two.
I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the nameplate on a Staff Sergeant's desk and said, "Sergeant Jolly, I'm Lieutenant Colonel Goodson. Here are my orders and my Qualification Jacket."
Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out his hand; we shook and he asked, "How long were you there, Colonel?" I replied "18 months this time." Jolly breathed, "Jesus, you must be a slow learner Colonel." I smiled.
Jolly said, "Colonel, I'll show you to your office and bring in the Sergeant Major." I said, "No, let's just go straight to his office." Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, "Colonel, the Sergeant Major. He's been in this G-dd-mn job two years. He's packed pretty tight. I'm worried about him." I nodded.
Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major's office. "Sergeant Major, this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Officer." The Sergeant Major stood, extended his hand and said, "Good to see you again, Colonel." I responded, "Hello Walt, how are you?" Jolly looked at me, raised an eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.
I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt's stress was palpable. Finally, I said, "Walt, what's the h-ll's wrong?" He turned his chair, looked out the window and said, "George, you're going to wish you were back in Nam before you leave here. I've been in the Marine Corps since 1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam for 12 months. Now I come here to bury these kids. I'm putting my letter in. I can't take it anymore." I said, "OK Walt. If that's what you want, I'll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it through Headquarters Marine Corps."
Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much suffering. He was used up.
Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28 military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory. Four, however, remain.
My First Notification
My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19 year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters Marine Corps. The information detailed:
*Name, rank, and serial number.
*Name, address, and phone number of next of kin.
*Date of and limited details about the Marine's death.
*Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.
*A strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or closed.
The boy's family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles away. I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store / service station / Post Office. I went in to ask directions.
Three people were in the store. A man and woman approached the small Post Office window. The man held a package. The Storeowner walked up and addressed them by name, "Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper."
I was stunned. My casualty's next-of-kin's name was John Cooper!
I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, "I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. and Mrs. John Copper of (address)?
The father looked at me - I was in uniform - and then, shaking, bent at the waist, he vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at me. Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I think I caught her before she hit the floor.
The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I drove them home in my staff car. The storeowner locked the store and followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began arriving.
I returned the storeowner to his business. He thanked me and said, "Mister, I wouldn't have your job for a million dollars." I shook his hand and said; "Neither would I."
I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the door, and sat there all night, alone.
My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death notification.
Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals. I borrowed Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them how to conduct a military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys, and how to fold the flag.
When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said, "All Marines share in your grief." I had been instructed to say, "On behalf of a grateful nation." I didn't think the nation was grateful, so I didn't say that.
Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn't speak. When that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, "I'm so sorry you have this terrible job." My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and kissed her.
Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young PFC. I drove to his mother's house. As always, I was in uniform and driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the yard, screaming "No! No! No! No!"
I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up and carried her into the house. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten or fifteen minutes later, the father came in followed by ambulance personnel. I have no recollection of leaving.
The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill. The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook his head sadly.
One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, "You've got another one, Colonel." I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call, I have no idea why, and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person's address and place of employment.
The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman's Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father's schedule.
The Business Manager asked, "Is it his son?" I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, "Tom is at home today." I said, "Don't call him. I'll take care of that." The Business Manager said, "Aye, Aye Sir," and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII."
I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, "Is Mr. Smith home?" She smiled pleasantly and responded, "Yes, but he's eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?" I said, "I'm sorry. It's important, I need to see him now."
She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, "Tom, it's for you."
A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, "Jesus Christ man, he's only been there three weeks!"
Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth... I never could do that... and held an imaginary phone to his ear.
Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, "Got it." and hung up. I had stopped saying "Thank You" long ago.
Me, "Eastern Shore of Maryland. The father is a retired Chief Petty Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam."
Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, "This time of day, it'll take three hours to get there and back. I'll call the Naval Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I'll have Captain Tolliver get one of his men to meet you and drive you to the Chief's home."
He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father's door. He opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at parade rest beside the car, and asked, "Which one of my boys was it, Colonel?"
I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.
He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). "I've gone through my boy's papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you make that happen?" I said, "Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will."
My wife who had been listening said, "Can you do that?" I told her, "I have no idea. But I'm going to break my azs trying."
I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and asked, "General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at Atlantic Fleet Headquarters?" General Bowser said, "George, you be there tomorrow at 0900. He will see you."
I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, "How can the Navy help the Marine Corps, Colonel." I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?" The Chief of Staff responded with a name.
The Admiral called the ship, "Captain, you're going to do a burial at sea. You'll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this mission is completed."
He hung up, looked at me, and said, "The next time you need a ship, Colonel, call me. You don't have to sic Al Bowser on my azs." I responded, "Aye Aye, Sir" and got the h-ll out of his office.
I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship's crew for four days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said, "These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from floating?"
All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the Senior Chief stood and said, "Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the retired guys from World War II hang out."
They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and said, "It's simple; we cut four 12" holes in the outer shell of the casket on each side and insert 300 lbs. of lead in the foot end of the casket. We can handle that, no sweat."
The day arrived. The ship and the Sailors looked razor sharp. General Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.
The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed on a catafalque. The Chaplin spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played "Eternal Father Strong to Save." The casket was raised slightly at the head and it slid into the sea.
The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet, stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising from the sinking casket sparkled in the sunlight as the casket disappeared from sight forever.
The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, "General, get me the f-ck out of here. I can't take this sh-t anymore." I was transferred two weeks later.
I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and too much suffering. I was used up.
Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention, saluted, and said, "Well Done, Colonel. Well Done."
March 7, 2012
Article by James Webb Secretary of the Navy
I have great respect for James Webb former Secretary of the Navy. His piece
here reflects the feelings of many of us veterans who are not able to put
into words those feelings but which he has crafted so skillfully and did for
Heroes of the Vietnam Generation
By James Webb
The rapidly disappearing cohort of Americans that endured the Great
Depression and then fought World War II is receiving quite a send-off from
the leading lights of the so-called 60s generation. Tom Brokaw has published
two oral histories of "The Greatest Generation" that feature ordinary people
doing their duty and suggest that such conduct was historically unique.
Chris Matthews of "Hardball" is fond of writing columns praising the Navy
service of his father while castigating his own baby boomer generation for
its alleged softness and lack of struggle.
William Bennett gave a startling condescending speech at the Naval Academy a
few years ago comparing the heroism of the "D-Day Generation" to the
drugs-and-sex nihilism of the "Woodstock Generation."
Steven Spielberg, in promoting his film "Saving Private Ryan," was careful
to justify his portrayals of soldiers in action based on the supposedly
unique nature of World War II.
An irony is at work here. Lest we forget, the World War II generation now
being lionized also brought us the Vietnam War, a conflict which today's
most conspicuous voices by and large opposed, and in which few of them
served. The "best and brightest" of the Vietnam age group once made
headlines by castigating their parents for bringing about the war in which
they would not fight, which has become the war they refuse to remember.
Pundits back then invented a term for this animus: the "generation gap."
Long, plaintive articles and even books were written examining its
manifestations. Campus leaders, who claimed precocious wisdom through the
magical process of reading a few controversial books, urged fellow baby
boomers not to trust anyone over 30. Their elders who had survived the
Depression and fought the largest war in history were looked down upon as
shallow, materialistic and out of touch.
Those of us who grew up, on the other side of the picket line from that
era's counter-culture can't help but feel a little leery of this sudden gush
of appreciation for our elders from the leading lights of the old
counter-culture. Then and now, the national conversation has proceeded from
the dubious assumption that those who came of age during Vietnam are a
unified generation in the same sense as their parents were and thus are
capable of being spoken for through these fickle elites.
In truth, the "Vietnam generation" is a misnomer.
Those who came of age during that war are permanently divided by different
reactions to a whole range of counter-cultural agendas and nothing divides
them more deeply than the personal ramifications of the war itself. The
sizable portion of the Vietnam age group who declined to support the
counter-cultural agenda, and especially the men and women who opted to serve
in the military during the Vietnam War, are quite different from their peers
who for decades have claimed to speak for them.
In fact, they are much like the World War II generation itself. For them,
Woodstock was a side show, college protestors were spoiled brats who would
have benefited from having to work a few jobs in order to pay their tuition,
and Vietnam represented not an intellectual exercise in draft avoidance, or
protest marches but a battlefield that was just as brutal as those their
fathers faced in World War II and Korea.
Few who served during Vietnam ever complained of a generation gap. The men
who fought World War II were their heroes and role models. They honored
their father's service by emulating it, and largely agreed with their
father's wisdom in attempting to stop Communism's reach in Southeast Asia.
The most accurate poll of their attitudes (Harris, 1980) showed that 91
percent were glad they'd served their country, 74 percent enjoyed their time
in the service, and 89 percent agreed with the statement that "our troops
were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington would
not let them win." And most importantly, the castigation they received upon
returning home was not from the World War II generation, but from the very
elites in their age group who supposedly spoke for them.
Nine million men served in the military during Vietnam War, three million of
whom went to the Vietnam Theater. Contrary to popular mythology, two-thirds
of these were volunteers, and 73 percent of those who died were volunteers.
While some attention has been paid recently to the plight of our prisoners
of war, most of whom were pilots; there has been little recognition of how
brutal the war was for those who fought it on the ground.
Dropped onto the enemy's terrain 12,000 miles away from home, America's
citizen-soldiers performed with a tenacity and quality that may never be
truly understood. Those who believe the war was fought incompletely on a
tactical level should consider Hanoi's recent admission that 1.4 million of
its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 58,000 total U.S. dead.
Those who believe that it was a "dirty little war" where the bombs did all
the work might contemplate that is was the most costly war the U.S. Marine
Corps has ever fought: five times as many dead as World War I, three times
as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded than in all of
World War II.
Significantly, these sacrifices were being made at a time the United States
was deeply divided over our effort in Vietnam. The baby-boom generation had
cracked apart along class lines as America's young men were making
difficult, life-or-death choices about serving. The better academic
institutions became focal points for vitriolic protest against the war, with
few of their graduates going into the military.
Harvard College, which had lost 691 alumni in World War II, lost a total of
12 men in Vietnam from the classes of 1962 through 1972 combined. Those
classes at Princeton lost six, at MIT two.
The media turned ever more hostile. And frequently the reward for a young
man's having gone through the trauma of combat was to be greeted by his
peers with studied indifference of outright hostility.
What is a hero? My heroes are the young men who faced the issues of war and
possible death, and then weighed those concerns against obligations to their
country. Citizen-soldiers who interrupted their personal and professional
lives at their most formative stage, in the timeless phrase of the
Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, "not for fame of
reward, not for place of for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as they
understood it." Who suffered loneliness, disease, and wounds with an
often-contagious ?lan. And who deserve a far better place in history than
that now offered them by the so-called spokesmen of our so-called
Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Spielberg, meet my Marines. 1969
was an odd year to be in Vietnam. Second only to 1968 in terms of American
casualties, it was the year made famous by Hamburger Hill, as well as the
gut-wrenching Life cover story showing pictures of 242 Americans who had
been killed in one average week of fighting.
Back home, it was the year of Woodstock, and of numerous anti-war rallies
that culminated in the Moratorium march on Washington. The My Lai massacre
hit the papers and was seized upon the anti-war movement as the emblematic
moment of the war. Lyndon Johnson left Washington in utter humiliation.
Richard Nixon entered the scene, destined for an even worse fate. In the An
Hoa Basin southwest of Danang, the Fifth Marine Regiment was in its third
year of continuous combat operations. Combat is an unpredictable and inexact
environment, but we were well led. As a rifle platoon and company commander,
I served under a succession of three regimental commanders who had cut their
teeth in World War II, and four different battalion commanders, three of
whom had seen combat in Korea.
The company commanders were typically captains on their second combat tour
in Vietnam, or young first lieutenants like myself who were given companies
after many months of "bush time" as platoon commanders in the Basin's tough
and unforgiving environs.
The Basin was one of the most heavily contested areas in Vietnam, its torn,
cratered earth offering every sort of wartime possibility. In the mountains
just to the west, not far from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese
Army operated an infantry division from an area called Base Area 112. In the
valleys of the Basin, main-force Viet Cong battalions whose ranks were 80
percent North Vietnamese Army regulars moved against the Americans every
Local Viet Cong units sniped and harassed. Ridgelines and paddy dikes were
laced with sophisticated booby traps of every size, from a hand grenade to a
250-pound bomb. The villages sat in the rice paddies and tree lines like
individual fortresses, crisscrossed with the trenches and spider holes,
their homes sporting bunkers capable of surviving direct hits from
large-caliber artillery shells.
The Viet Cong infrastructure was intricate and permeating. Except for the
old and the very young, villagers who did not side with the Communists had
either been killed or driven out to the government controlled enclaves near
In the rifle companies, we spent the endless months patrolling ridgelines
and villages and mountains, far away from any notion of tents, barbed wire,
hot food, or electricity. Luxuries were limited to what would fit inside
one's pack, which after a few "humps" usually boiled down to letter-writing
material, towel, soap, toothbrush, poncho liner, and a small transistor
We moved through the boiling heat with 60 pounds of weapons and gear,
causing a typical Marine to drop 20 percent of his body weight while in the
bush. When we stopped we dug chest-deep fighting holes and slit trenches for
toilets. We slept on the ground under makeshift poncho hootches, and when it
rained we usually took our hootches down because wet ponchos shined under
illumination flares, making great targets.
Sleep itself was fitful, never more than an hour or two at a stretch for
months at a time as we mixed daytime patrolling with night-time ambushes,
listening posts, foxhole duty, and radio watches. Ringworm, hookworm,
malaria, and dysentery were common, as was trench foot when the monsoons
came. Respite was rotating back to the mud-filled regimental combat base at
An Hoa for four or five days, where rocket and mortar attacks were frequent
and our troops manned defensive bunkers at night. Which makes it kind of
hard to get excited about tales of Woodstock, or camping at the Vineyard
during summer break.
We had been told while training that Marine officers in the rifle companies
had an 85 percent probability of being killed or wounded, and the experience
of "Dying Delta," as our company was known, bore that out. Of the officers
in the bush when I arrived, our company commander was wounded, the weapons
platoon commander wounded, the first platoon commander was killed, the
second platoon commander was wounded twice, and I, commanding the third
platoons fared no better. Two of my original three-squad leaders were
killed, and the third shot in the stomach. My platoon sergeant was severely
wounded, as was my right guide. By the time I left, my platoon I had gone
through six radio operators, five of them casualties.
These figures were hardly unique; in fact, they were typical. Many other
units; for instance, those who fought the hill battles around Khe Sanh, or
were with the famed Walking Dead of the Ninth Marine Regiment, or were in
the battle of Hue City or at Dai Do, had it far worse.
When I remember those days and the very young men who spent them with me, I
am continually amazed, for these were mostly recent civilians barely out of
high school, called up from the cities and the farms to do their year in
hell and he return. Visions haunt me every day, not of the nightmares of war
but of the steady consistency with which my Marines faced their
responsibilities, and of how uncomplaining most of them were in the face of
The salty, battle-hardened 20-year-olds teaching green 19-year-olds the
intricate lessons of the hostile battlefield. The unerring skill of the
young squad leaders as we moved through unfamiliar villages and weed-choked
trails in the black of night. The quick certainty when a fellow Marine was
wounded and needed help. Their willingness to risk their lives to save other
Marines in peril. To this day it stuns me that their own countrymen have so
completely missed the story of their service, lost in the bitter confusion
of the war itself.
Like every military unit throughout history we had occasional laggards,
cowards, and complainers. But in the aggregate, these Marines were the
finest people I have ever been around. It has been my privilege to keep up
with many of them over the years since we all came home. One finds in them
very little bitterness about the war in which they fought. The most common
regret, almost to a man, is that they were not able to do more for each
other and for the people they came to help.
It would be redundant to say that I would trust my life to these men.
Because I already have, in more ways than I can ever recount. I am alive
today because of their quiet, unaffected heroism. Such valor epitomizes the
conduct of Americans at war from the first days of our existence. That the
boomer elites can canonize this sort of conduct in our fathers' generation
while ignoring it in our own is more than simple oversight. It is a
conscious, continuing travesty.
Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver
Star, and Bronze Star medals for heroism as a Marine in Vietnam. His novels
include The Emperor's General and Fields of Fire.
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check
payable to The United States of America, for an unknown amount, but
up to, and including, his life.